When I was in Israel last month it was impossible to be confused about which day was the Sabbath for the Jewish people. Shops were closed, the buses didn’t run (even for the tourists) and all “worldly activities” stopped in mid-afternoon on Friday so that people would have ample time to welcome their day of rest at sundown. We were on our own until Saturday at sundown – and it became a good time to walk and reflect and perhaps attend Shabbat services. And if we were paying attention during our stay, we would often hear the Muslim call to prayer – a blast that went out all over the city to remind people to “hasten to prayer.” Five times a day (dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall – about two hours after sunset) the call goes out and people turn to remember God and right action.
Today’s lectionary reading from the Hebrew Scriptures (EX 20:1-17) lists the Ten Commandments given to Moses. The first three, which speak of our relationship to God, are more detailed than the rest where we find ways of relating to one another in the world. As I read the third, I was reminded of my youth when it seemed there was more congruence of American culture and consciousness of God.
Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God. No work may be done by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you…
I can already hear the objections (which I myself have often raised): that people have to work and now stores and other places of business are open 24/7 so it’s impossible to designate a day…We are a true melting pot (or a stew) in this country now so a common Sabbath isn’t feasible…Sunday is the only day I can get the laundry and food shopping done…and it’s all true. The question is a challenge to the creativity of each of us. In the face of all the obstacles, how might I reconfigure a remembrance of God that is more than a one-hour, once-a-week exercise? It might be a daily ritual – or several times a day. It might be a weekly fast day, or a day of compassion each week, or, after practices have become ingrained enough, it may be that we are always celebrating Sabbath because we are always, day and night, turning inward and resting in the presence of God.